Art Of The Meal: An Heirloom Restaurant in Jasper
49 South Main St., Jasper, 706.253.7289
Schedule: Breakfast, Monday-Friday; brunch, Saturday; lunch, Monday-Saturday; dinner, Thursday-Saturday and
Monday. Closed Sunday.
Credit cards: Accepted.
Reservations: Recommended for dinner.
Parking: On the street.
Dress code: Casual.
Jasper’s Main Street faces blue-ridged peaks on both sides, its air as cool and clean as an old-fashioned icehouse. On a recent Monday night, it was as quiet as you might expect for a rural, mountain community, with one exception: The lively folks crowding into 61 Main, a new restaurant by hardworking chef/owner Jenna Schreiber.
On this bargain night, diners choose an entrée, side and dessert, plus beverage, for an incredible $12. That price becomes even more incredible once you sample this delicious, expertly prepared food, and learn that Schreiber sources almost everything – from the mountain trout and spring lamb to the goat’s milk cheese and heirloom citrus – from local and regional farmers. Even the coffee is roasted locally.
A Johnson & Wales culinary school alum, Schreiber worked in the demanding Charleston, S.C., restaurant scene for a decade before picking Jasper as the spot for the “farm-to-table” place she wanted to run. (Note: At presstime, the restaurant was scheduled to close for four days in late July to move into a new, larger location at 49 South Main, the old Jasper movie theater. The name, menu and focus, however, will remain the same. Please call to confirm before going.)
Schreiber’s husband and the couple’s genial servers work with the kind of understated joy that comes when you know you’re onto something good. And is it ever: On the night we visited, we sampled a signature cocktail – not included in the special, but well worth $7 for the bracing “grapefruit gimlet” of Bombay gin, Cee Bee’s grapefruit, lime and a small splash of simple syrup. (Wine and beer is also extra.)
Our meal choices, including some of the best pan-fried trout I’ve ever sampled, with black pepper and bacon gravy, had us shaking our heads: How do they do this so well … at this price? Other choices included a homemade pimento cheese-stuffed burger, Buffalo chicken tenders, eggplant lasagne, a veggie plate and halibut medallion Milanese.
Schreiber’s husband muttered something about making good use of extra produce to keep everything fresh, but we suspect that in addition to using up whatever is left from the weekend, the night is a loss leader, bringing hesitant newcomers into the restaurant and making believers out of them.
We also opted for small soups as starters ($3 each extra). Both were outstanding – the potato and dill was light and tasted of earthy tuber and delicate herb, instead of the heavy cream and salt you often encounter. I’d never had a “lamb and couscous soup” before, but this was a clever, tasty twist on Italian wedding soup, with couscous pearls and lamb nuggets in light broth.
If the tender, fleshy trout was head-shakingly good, the scallops and grits were also mind-benders: Dewy-centered, seared scallops over cheddar grits, spiked with Vidalia onions and sweet peppers. I loved the braised, slightly bitter greens, but the cabbage and onion casserole was the kind of old-fashioned First Methodist cookbook special I dearly love: Fluffy but hearty, it’s a kind of cross between stuffing and soufflé.
Dessert was a couple of home-baked brownie bites, with a bit of whipped cream and a strawberry. What more could anyone want?
Well, how about breakfast every weekday, with house-baked pastries? Lunch most days, too? And a seasonal dinner menu on weekends with dishes like duck cacciatore, pork osso bucco and a chicken and biscuits dish made from bacon-maple sweet potato biscuits?
Count me a believer. And credit Jenna Schreiber for knowing that as progress marches forward, it also looks back in admiration. 61 Main is, like its tomatoes, an heirloom passed on to a new generation.